Phantom Pain

Phantom pain is the feeling of pain that affects part of the body that is no longer there. Phantom pain is commonly experienced after amputation of a limb. Physical therapy is a useful method that helps to tackle problems associated with phantom limb pain.

What is phantom pain?

Phantom pain is the apparent nerve pain that comes from an area of the body that is no longer there due to trauma or surgical amputation. It is mostly experienced after the amputation of part of a limb such as an arm or a leg but can also be experienced when other parts of the body have been removed.

What causes phantom pain?

The exact cause of phantom pain in unclear however there are theories related to a disruption of messages travelling from the nervous system to the brain. It is thought to occur because the nerves in the body are continuing to tell the brain that the amputated part is still there. Even though the limb is not there anymore, the pathways of nerves remain and as a result there could be an increase in false pain or sensation messages to the brain which aren’t blocked because the limb is gone.

What are the symptoms of phantom pain?

Phantom pain is very real and affects people who have had an amputation of some sort but it may not affect everyone who has had an amputation. Sufferers may experience continued pain or sensation where the part was previously. Phantom experience is when amputees don’t suffer pain but they experience certain sensations like itching or temperature. Stump pain is pain perceived specifically at the stump. Phantom pain may feel like cramping, burning, stabbing or shooting pain. A number of things may aggravate stump or phantom pain e.g.

  • Fatigue
  • Temperature or weather changes
  • Excess pressure on amputated area
  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Ill-fitting artificial/ prosthetic limbPhantom may also cause a lot of distress largely due to lack of understanding. Phantom pain may go by itself over time after adjusting to the new circumstances. If phantom pain persists, there are a number of treatments for available including medication to treat nerve pain and depression, injections, appropriate prosthetic assessment and even surgery to stimulate nervous system or to correct any stump problems. One of the main treatments that will help phantom pain is physical therapy.